The largest contributor of infant death in the U.S. is on the rise again for the second year in a row after nearly a decade of decline. 2016 saw that rise of preterm birth, or birth before 35 weeks of pregnancy, in states across the country, earning the nation a “C” grade on the latest March of Dimes Premature Birth Report Card.

There are typically more than 380,00 preterm births in the country, but in 2016 an additional 8,000 premature births were recorded, an occurrence that puts babies at greater risk for death before their first birthday, as well as lifelong disabilities and chronic illness. The preterm birth rate nationwide increased from 9.6 percent to 9.8 percent.

“March of Dimes is dedicated to giving every baby a fair chance for a healthy start in life and our work is more vital than ever,” said March of Dimes President Stacey D. Stewart.

For more than 80 years, the nonprofit organization has advocated for pregnancy and baby health.

The rates for premature birth worsened in 43 states, D.C., and Puerto Rico and along all racial lines.

The March of Dimes Premature Birth Report Card provides grades for all 50 states based on the most recent National Center for Health Statistics data.

The District’s preterm birth rate of 10.7 percent earned it a “D” on the 2017 report card, joining 11 other states.

Only four states earned an “A,” while 13 states earned a “B” and 18 got a “C.” Four states and Puerto Rico received an “F.”

The study noted a worsening in the premature birth disparity rates across racial and ethnic groups and has not shown improvement in any state since 2012.

Nationwide, Black women are 49 percent more likely to deliver preterm compared to white women, and Native American women are 18 percent more likely to deliver preterm than their white counterparts.

“The 2017 March of Dimes Report Card demonstrates that moms and babies in this country face a higher risk of preterm birth based on race and zip code,” Stewart said. “This is an unacceptable trend and it needs immediate attention.”

In D.C., the premature birth rate among Black women is 61 percent higher than the rate among all other women in the city.

Babies who survive a preterm birth often suffer from serious and lifelong health problems such as breathing problems, jaundice, vision loss, cerebral palsy and intellectual delays. Premature births account for more than $26 billion a year in avoidable medical and societal costs, according to the National Academy of Medicine.

The organization said it is taking action on multiple fronts both nationally and in communities with the greatest needs to spread innovation and create safer delivery outcomes for patients.

In the District, it operates The Stork’s Nest, a program based at Unity Parkside Health Center, that encourages high-risk and underserved pregnant women to keep prenatal appointments and participate in educational sessions. It also runs a program based at Mamatoto Village to educate perinatal health workers on birth spacing, family planning and smoking cessation during pregnancy.

Nationally, the organization says it looks to expand scientific research and increase education for women and health care professionals through social media campaigns and strengthening advocacy and programs that improve perinatal health outcomes.

“In addition to discovering new ways to prevent premature birth and improve the care that women receive, it’s essential that we improve the broader social context for health,” said Dr. Paul E. Jarris, the chief medical officer at the March of Dimes.

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Tatyana Hopkins – Washington Informer Contributing Writer

Tatyana Hopkins has always wanted to make the world a better place. Growing up she knew she wanted to be a journalist. To her there were too many issues in the world to pick a career that would force her...

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